John Swofford’s league was at a crossroads and it feels like the ACC made the right choice.
A Grant of Rights has been signed, the Louisville Cardinals — and mastermind athletic director Tom Jurich — are joining the ranks (and will be showcased on Labor Day night), Notre Dame has been officially added to the schedule for half the year and, of course, the ACC will enter the College Football Playoff Era as the home of the reigning national champions.
As the ACC 2014 football schedule is now finalized, fans can tell Swofford and his collection of excellent ADs have made it clear they value rivalries and TV ratings. New season-ending games could become permanent (like North Carolina-NC State) to go along with the already juicy list of in-state and cross-conference rivalries that dot the final weekend of action.
The biggest difference, and challenge, in 2014 and beyond for ACC fans will be seeing Notre Dame five times each year and how that impacts scheduling. It means an interesting 6-1-1 crossover slate and nationally televised games on Thursday (six games), Fridays (three) and even on Monday (one game). Below are some league superlatives and a team-by-team breakdown of the ’14 football season in the ACC.
Biggest Game in the Atlantic: Florida State at Louisville (Thurs., Oct. 30)
Biggest Game in the Coastal: North Carolina at Miami (Nov. 1)
Marquee Non-Conference Showdown: Oklahoma State vs. Florida State (Aug. 30)
Marquee Non-Conference Showdown II: Notre Dame at Florida State (Nov. 8)
Marquee Non-Conference Showdown III: Clemson at Georgia (Aug. 30)
League’s Toughest Schedule: Miami
League’s Easiest Schedule: Duke
Boston College Eagles (7-6, 4-4)
A sneaky good non-conference slate highlights the Eagles' early season schedule. Games with USC and Colorado State — as well as conference foe Pitt — will all take place at Alumni Stadium in the first five weeks of the season before an open date. As the calendar begins to flip from October to November, Boston College’s schedule begins to toughen. The Eagles will play a six-game stretch that includes Clemson, at Wake Forest, at Virginia Tech, Louisville, at Florida State and Syracuse. There is a bye week between Louisville and Florida State, giving Steve Addazio two weeks to prepare for the defending champs.
Best Non-Conference Game: USC (Sept. 13)
Crossover Games: Pitt (Sept. 5), at Virginia Tech (Nov. 1)
Upset Opportunity: Louisville (Nov. 8)
Must-Win: Syracuse (Nov. 29)
Clemson Tigers (11-2, 7-1)
Clemson isn’t going to ease into life without Tajh Boyd very easily. The Tigers will visit Georgia and Florida State in the first four weeks of the season before North Carolina comes to town to end the month of September. Should Clemson survive that run, things don’t get any easier in October: NC State, Louisville, at Boston College, Syracuse. At least, three of those four will come at home in Death Valley before an open date prepares this team for the stretch run. November will feature conference road trips to Wake Forest and Georgia Tech before ending with two non-conference games against Georgia State and South Carolina. Clemson will play in the state of Georgia twice and face three teams from the Peach State by the season’s end. Challenging for an ACC title with this schedule seems unlikely.
Best Non-Conference Game: South Carolina (Nov. 29)
Crossover Games: North Carolina (Sept. 27), at Georgia Tech (Nov. 15)
Upset Alert: at Georgia Tech (Nov. 15)
Must-Win: North Carolina (Sept. 27)
Florida State Seminoles (14-0, 8-0)
The Noles will begin their title defense in style with a neutral field game against Oklahoma State in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The crowd should be big and the game is one of the best non-conference tilts on tap for 2014. The Pokes highlight what will be a challenging opening month for the national champs. Aside from Okie State, Florida State also faces Clemson at home and must travel to Raleigh to face nemesis NC State within the first month. Notre Dame comes to town in mid-October to start the toughest stretch of games for the Noles that also involves road trips to Louisville and Miami as well as a home game with lowly Virginia. The season will end, as usual, against in-state rival Florida. Not facing Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Pitt or Georgia Tech makes a manageable schedule even better.
Best Non-Conference Game: Colorado State (Aug. 30)
Crossover Games: Virginia (Nov. 8), at Miami (Nov. 15)
Upset Alert: Utah (Nov. 29)
Must-Win: Clemson (Sept. 20)
Louisville Cardinals (12-1, 7-1)
The ACC knows how to throw a welcoming party by sending Miami to Louisville on Labor Day night to kick things off in 2014. Not only is it the first-ever ACC game for the Cardinals but it’s a meeting between two of the better teams in the league. Should the Cards get past Miami, there is a good chance Bobby Petrino’s squad is undefeated as it heads to Death Valley to face Clemson in Week 7. The month of October will be tough with road games against Syracuse and Clemson and NC State and Florida State coming to town. In fact, the ACC schedule will be over by Nov. 8 with three weeks left in the slate. Over the final four weeks, Louisville will be off (Nov. 15), face Notre Dame on the road (Nov. 22) and Kentucky at home (Nov. 29) with the ACC title game set for Dec. 6. In all, the Cardinals will play on Thursday (Florida State), Friday (at Cuse), Saturdays and Monday (Miami).
Best Non-Conference Game: at Notre Dame (Nov. 22)
Crossover Games: Miami (Sept. 1), at Virginia (Sept. 13)
Upset Alert: at Boston College (Nov. 8)
Must-Win: at Syracuse (Oct. 3)
NC State Wolfpack (3-9, 0-8)
The Wolfpack went 0-for-the-ACC and 0-for-the-state with eight losses in conference and four losses to teams in the state of North Carolina. Things should be better for the Pack in 2014 as an easy non-conference slate to start the year should provide four wins before facing Florida State and Clemson in back-to-back weeks. In the second half of the season, the schedule affords some chances for home wins against Boston College, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. Dave Doeren will have to pull some upsets because the road slate in the second half is brutal: at Louisville (Oct. 18), at Syracuse (Nov. 1) and at North Carolina (No. 29).
Best Non-Conference Game: at South Florida (Sept. 13)
Crossover Games: Georgia Tech (Nov. 8), at North Carolina (No. 29)
Upset Opportunity: Georgia Tech (Nov. 8)
Must-Win: Wake Forest (Nov. 15)
Syracuse Orange (7-6, 4-4)
The Orange’s search of a third straight bowl game will come with a quality non-conference schedule that features Maryland at home, Notre Dame in MetLife Stadium and a bizarre road trip to Mount Pleasant to face Central Michigan. Cuse then gets the three best teams in its division — Florida State, Louisville and Clemson — over a four-week span between Oct. 3 and Oct. 25. At least, the Cardinals and Seminoles must come North to play in the Carrier Dome. Over the final month of the year, Cuse fans will be on the edge of their seat in an effort to get to the postseason. NC State and Duke at home are winnable games with tricky road trips to Pitt and Boston College to end the year. The Orange will get a bye week before the final two-game road trip to cap the season.
Best Non-Conference Game: Notre Dame (Sept. 27, MetLife Stadium)
Crossover Games: Duke (Nov. 8), at Pitt (Nov. 22)
Upset Opportunity: Louisville (Oct. 3)
Must-Win: Maryland (Sept. 20)
Wake Forest Demon Deacons (4-8, 2-6)
Wake Forest has a good shot at being 3-1 in Dave Clawson's first month on the job in Winston-Salem. Should Wake start out strong and win on the road at Utah State (easier said than done), this team could easily be unblemished heading to Louisville to start ACC play. That, however, is where things start to get ugly. Clawson gets back-to-back road trips to Louisville and Florida State before three straight home games with bowl teams Syracuse, Boston College and Clemson. The Deacons will have a tough time winning more than one of those five. The only comfort might come in the final three weeks, where the Deacs won't leave the state. Wake Forest finishes at NC State, Virginia Tech at home and at Duke. Bowl eligibility seems highly unlikely despite an easy non-conference slate.
Best Non-Conference Game: at Utah State (Sept. 13)
Crossover Games: Virginia Tech (Nov. 22), at Duke (Nov. 29)
Upset Opportunity: Virginia Tech (Nov. 22)
Must-Win: Syracuse (Oct. 18)
Duke Blue Devils (10-4, 6-3)
The defending division champs don’t have as tough a trip back to the title game as fellow division contenders Georgia Tech, Miami or North Carolina have. Duke gets two easier crossover games with Wake Forest and Syracuse and will host Virginia Tech and North Carolina late in the year (Weeks 12-13). The non-conference schedule should be four wins and the off weekends are well placed after five games and just before November. First half road trips to Miami and Georgia Tech — with a bye week in between — will likely decide if the Devils return to the ACC title game. Two sneaky road trips to start November to Pitt and Cuse could cause problems but both come after a bye weekend. There is a lot to like about this schedule for Duke but also plenty of speed bumps for a team that lost four games last season.
Best Non-Conference Game: Kansas (Sept. 13)
Crossover Games: at Syracuse (Nov. 8), Wake Forest (Nov. 29)
Upset Alert: at Syracuse (Nov. 8)
Must-Win: North Carolina (Nov. 20)
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (7-6, 5-3)
Visiting Tulane isn’t an easy game but it is a must-win if Tech expects to compete in the ACC. After what should be a 3-0 start for Paul Johnson, Yellow Jackets fans won’t have to wait long to figure out their standing in the ACC. Georgia Tech will play at Virginia Tech, host both Miami and Duke and visit North Carolina in four straight games. Survive that and Tech wins the division, if not, the second half could be a long uphill battle. Trips to Pitt, NC State and in-state rival Georgia as well as a visit from Clemson make the second half of the slate no easier than the already difficult first half. Virginia at home on Nov. 1 might be the only game in which Tech is a clear favorite after Week 2.
Best Non-Conference Game: at Georgia (Nov. 29)
Crossover Games: at NC State (Nov. 8), Clemson (Nov. 15)
Upset Opportunity: Clemson (Nov. 15)
Must-Win: Duke (Oct. 11)
Miami Hurricanes (9-4, 5-3)
The Hurricanes' first month of the season won’t be easy and its crossover schedule is easily the toughest in the league. Miami will travel to Louisville and to Nebraska before facing Duke at home all in the month of September. In addition to critical Coastal Division games with Duke, at Georgia Tech, at Virginia Tech and North Carolina at home, Al Golden will face arguably the two best teams in the Atlantic: at Louisville to open the year and Florida State at home in mid-November. Mix in a tough non-conference game with Cincinnati on Oct. 11 and Miami has one of the toughest schedules in the league.
Best Non-Conference Game: at Nebraska (Sept. 20)
Crossover Games: at Louisville (Sept. 1), Florida St (Nov. 15)
Upset Alert: at Georgia Tech (Oct. 4)
Must-win: Duke (Sept. 27)
North Carolina Tar Heels (7-6, 4-4)
The Tar Heels' ACC destiny in 2014 will be determined away from home. Conference games at Clemson, Duke and Miami, and a non-conference tilt in South Bend against Notre Dame, are extremely daunting for a team with eyes on a conference championship. North Carolina will play two games at home between Week 3 and Week 11. Both Techs — Virginia and Georgia — will have to come to Chapel Hill during that span, however, in a small bit of fortune. The season finale will now feature in-state rival NC State in crossover play and that, too, will come at home at Kenan Memorial. If the Tar Heels can make it to the month of November in contention, they will have a shot at a conference crown as the final three games are winnable (Pitt, at Duke, NC State).
Best Non-Conference Game: at Notre Dame (Oct. 11)
Crossover Games: at Clemson (Sept. 27), NC State (Nov. 29)
Upset Alert: Georgia Tech (Oct. 18)
Must-Win: Virginia Tech (Oct. 4)
Pitt Panthers (7-6, 3-5)
There are a lot of winnable games in the first month of the season for Paul Chryst. Four non-conference games are highlighted by a visit from Iowa in Week 4 as two road ACC games against Boston College and Virginia will be played as well before the off date in Week 7. The break comes at a good time as the Panthers will face Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Duke in three consecutive games at home. A second bye week then prepares the Panthers for a tough final three weeks of the season - at North Carolina, home against Syracuse and at former Big East rival Miami. This slate isn’t all that daunting with how it is laid out and with winnable crossovers. Could Pitt actually be in contention entering that final three weeks of the season?
Best Non-Conference Game: Iowa (Sept. 20)
Crossover Games: at Boston College (Sept. 5), Syracuse (Nov. 22)
Upset Opportunity: Virginia Tech (Oct. 16)
Defining Moment: Syracuse (Nov. 22)
Virginia Cavaliers (2-10, 0-8)
Mike London enters a critical season in Charlottesville and the schedule-makers are doing him no favors. The non-conference slate involves a season opener against a potential top 10 team in UCLA at home and a road trip to BYU in Week 4 that could involve a heavy dose of revenge from the Cougars. In between is an ACC opener against Bobby Petrino and Louisville. The Cavaliers will play two home ACC games (UL, Pitt) to begin, so a brutal road slate awaits in the second half of the season. Trips to Durham, Atlanta, Tallahassee and Blacksburg loom with nasty home games against division frontrunners North Carolina and Miami mixed in. One win after Week 6 might be considered a success.
Best Non-Conference Game: UCLA (Aug. 30)
Crossover Games: Louisville (Sept. 13), at Florida State (Nov. 8)
Upset Opportunity: Louisville (Sept. 13)
Must-Win: Pitt (Oct. 4)
Virginia Tech Hokies (8-5, 5-3)
The most noticeable aspect to the Hokies ’14 slate is the road trip to Ohio State in Week 2 before hosting upstart East Carolina in Week 3. A 1-2 start to the season could be devastating as Tech’s most difficult stretch of ACC play comes between Weeks 4-9. Virginia Tech gets the important battle with Georgia Tech at home before back-to-back divisional road trips to North Carolina and Pitt. The trip to Pittsburgh will happen on a Thursday night, the first of two consecutive Thursday night games when Miami comes to town the following week. Much like UNC, should Tech make it to November in contention, things are looking positive. The Hokies will finish with four winnable games and a bye in the final five weeks of the season. The Commonwealth Cup is one of many rivalry games that the ACC is attempting to feature on the season’s final weekend. From a crossover standpoint (BC and at Wake), Tech has the clear advantage over Miami and North Carolina in the scheduling department.
Best Non-Conference Game: at Ohio State (Sept. 6)
Crossover Games: Boston College (Nov. 1), at Wake Forest (Nov. 22)
Upset Opportunity: Miami (Oct. 23)
Must-Win: Georgia Tech (Sept. 20)